NXT TAKEOVER XXX HITS & MISSES 8/22: Kross rises to the occasion, McAfee impresses, car crash ladder match, Balor booked backwards

by Tom Stoup, PWTorch Contributor

Keith Lee Karrion Kross Scarlett NXT TakeOver XXX Championship Match Main Event

SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...

•General Presentation

WWE moving all main roster programming to the “ThunderDome”-branded residency at Orlando’s Amway Center begs the question as to why NXT is remaining at Full Sail Live. Of several arguments, including my opinion there is value in preserving NXT’s collegiate feel, perhaps the most pertinent of the moment comes down to sheer logistics.  SummerSlam weekend seems deliberately designed to have a testing and troubleshooting day between ThunderDome’s Friday debut and Sunday’s big show, with no room to sandwich in another show on Saturday. So we remain in Full Sail’s small studio, with WWE signees as the audience behind plexiglass. This time the “fans” have been allowed seating, which results in more golf claps than glass banging. I’ll gladly take the awkward applause over Rik Bugez-induced headaches, though the quiet of the empty arena days of the COVID-19 pandemic are preferable to either. Though not as singular as the resurrected “In Your House” decor, to set this TakeOver apart NXT has prominently arranged three “X”-shaped screens at the entrance stage (right, “XXX” – so the would-be TakeOver: Tampa Bay matches that wound up on TV are officially not being counted). The sight is easy to forget once the matches are underway, though it does at least lift event above the weekly TV as well as add an extra “cool” factor to entrances such as that of Damian Priest. Corey Graves – after “wearing down” Triple H per Triple H’s own words on the post-TakeOver conference call – rejoined commentary, and with different production and a more serious product to flavor he reminded us of what can be his value. There was also an admirable restraint when it came to lauding TakeOver’s excellent track record that has brought it to the “XXX” milestone. Otherwise, this event enjoyed WWE’s usual high production value mixed with the TakeOver brand’s usual nonsense-light approach, ultimately achieving the necessary special feel.

Verdict: Honorary HIT

•Breezango vs. Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan vs. Legado del Fantasma to become the NXT Tag Team Championship #1 contenders (Kickoff)

Raul Mendoza and Joaquin Wilde – exhibiting their individualism once more – felt like shoe-ins to win as a capitalization on the hot streak their new faction has been on. Instead we’re going back to the perennial losers Breezango, who despite their talent and appeal have only been reinforced as lower carders since returning to NXT. Clocking shy of seven minutes, the match contained a few amusing spots (Mendoza’s top turnbuckle corkscrew to the outside in particular) but ended abruptly before it could really get going. I can be generous, though, as it served its purpose of efficiently whetting the appetite for meatier wrestling from within the confines of a 30-minute pre-show. Plus, Beth Phoenix unabashedly drooling over Breezango on commentary has become a regular highlight.

Verdict: HIT

•Finn Balor vs. Timothy Thatcher

So how does Finn Balor, with his new “FXXX” logo, not get a unique use of the “XXX” entrance screens to open the show proper? Anyway, here we’re looking at a tenured WWE worker with too many critical losses as he goes up against a newer signing with so much potential that he, too, cannot afford many big losses at this point. This should make for an intriguing must-win matchup, however Balor and Thatcher have found themselves in this last-minute curtain-jerker with little to no build. We do at least have Thatcher’s signature catch style forcing Balor to work more or less outside his usual gear, and some payoff to the rudderless “Thatch as Thatch Can” videos as having seen Thatcher demonstrate his holds in those renders the pain they inflict more believable. Still, we end up with the lackadaisical ending of Balor selling a limp through multiple finishing maneuvers while the would-be formidable Thatcher posts and ragdolls as needed without resistance. If Balor is to remain a mere gatekeeper despite his (possibly depleted) drawing potential, it seems backward to give him his fortifying wins in moments like this while doling out the losses time after time on the weekly TV. I’m tempted to give this a “Hit” anyway, solely for Vic Joseph calling one transition as “Balor twerking on the elbow,” but alas…

Verdict: MISS

•Johnny Gargano vs. Cameron Grimes vs. Damian Priest vs. Bronson Reed vs. The Velveteen Dream for the vacant NXT North American Championship, ladder match

With the novel days of the multi-person car crash ladder match now two decades in the past, I have found myself quite disenchanted with the stilted stunt shows these affairs typically become no matter what the level of talent involved. This latest example falls somewhere in the vast middle area between the format’s higher modern tier and the dredges of the most cooperative eye-rollers. At least each wrestler’s specialties were spotlighted, though such a brunt of comedy fell to Cameron Grimes that even ol’ Grimey wound up looking a little too goofy for his own Memphis-style good. The positives of those elements aside, this was yet another overlong ordeal that felt counter-intuitively low energy since so much of it revolved around setting up elaborate spots. For example, Velveteen Dream – the palpable controversy around whom is not going away, and continues to not be helped by Triple H’s repeated deflections on the matter – suffered a moment idiotic even relative to ladder matches in which we are already willing to accept that climbing a ladder has a speed limit. Before dropping an elbow from a tall ladder, he realized he was close enough to grab the title, so he repositioned himself… on a lower ladder out of reach! This was quite obviously just to set up a subsequent spot with Damian Priest, who, thankfully, looked good otherwise throughout the match. The live camera angle did it no favors, but the finish when Priest snatched the belt by deftly kicking Johnny Gargano from atop a ladder was impressive, and Priest suitably sold it as a big moment. Later in the show Priest would be seen awkwardly awaiting his cue to go celebrate the win in a hot tub with former Velveteen Dream groupie and recent Raw Underground jobber Brandi Lauren. The build to this was a “Hit” in terms of nurturing fresh talent, but the match itself failed to clear the difficult bar set by its stipulation. Now excuse me while I go looking for a .gif of Gargano scrambling toward a ladder like an eager puppy.

Verdict: MISS

•Adam Cole vs. Pat McAfee

Adam Cole and especially Pat McAfee had a lot to live up to following a phenomenal crossover build, and one that has been encouraging to see used to propel Cole’s long-awaited babyface turn. Cole feels more like a true star than anyone else on WWE TV right now, and McAfee is continuing to perfectly present himself as an “outsider” heel. McAfee’s lack of proper wrestling attire, added to his “For the Brand” logo that looked like he’d ironed it on himself, was just delicious, and helped by Corey Graves’ heel-slanted commentary. The match followed the same template as the go-home face-to-face promos – Cole remained calm and collected as McAfee postured and eventually revealed his fear upon realizing he was out of his depth. McAfee’s rookie experience level forced the pacing to emphasize the characters and the storyline, which I relished. Importantly, nothing McAfee went on to do felt as though it went too far overboard. This isn’t Jay Leno working a wristlock on Hulk Hogan here. Even the platform jump superplex McAfee climaxed with was believably established in the preceding video package as something he’d been practicing in his own training facility. When McAfee did have the upper hand, he leaned effectively on his showboating as Cole proved again to be a seller of the highest caliber who could generate payloads of sympathy if continually booked well. Following a nail-biter of a near fall off McAfee’s punt, the match’s only false note came when Cole opted to finish things off with his “Panama Sunrise” Canadian destroyer. Not only did this seem to be included just to show hardcore fans McAfee could pull off his end of that highly cooperation-reliant maneuver, it also required McAfee to very blatantly position himself for Cole. That aside, NXT’s first “celebrity” match made for an easy match of the night.

Verdict: Biggest HIT of the night

•Dakota Kai vs. Io Shirai (c) for the NXT Women’s Championship

The entrances for this match featured the most integration of the night’s sponsor, WWE Supercard, as the wrestlers’ respective in-game stats and the number of players who have collected their cards to date were read off on commentary. This made for a fun take on the tale of the tape. It pains me to admit that what followed fell well short of what we have repeatedly seen from Kai and Shirai in the past, helped in no part by Kai’s constant obvious spot-calling. The drama didn’t pick up until a referee bump that was welcome if only because it ushered the match to a new phase. We eventually got some post-match Rhea Ripley involvement, with Ripley’s always evolving look now calling off all pretense and going full android. Soon Ripley was standing off with Kai’s charge, Raquel Gonzalez. Gonzalez’ lips could be read saying, “I’ve been waiting for this,” to which I emphatically thought, “Me, too,” seeing as the two powerhouses go back at least three years working with and against one another on NXT house shows. The prospect of their eventual clash has lived in my mind for some time. The segment ended with Ripley looming in the background behind Shirai – who felt tertiary after the bell but otherwise came off like a total badass whose moonsault looks like it just absolutely ruins your day. The women’s division is so often the top highlight of TakeOver that it’s a shame this didn’t really take off until the closing moments and the aftermath, but it managed itself over the hump in the end.

Verdict: HIT

•Karrion Kross vs. Keith Lee (c) for the NXT Championship

Not just because of the build, and not just because it was for the NXT Championship, this match felt like the rightful main event because it was compelling to wonder what a fight between these two monsters would look like. Keith Lee’s title win felt like a deviation from the plan for the sake of an opportunistic ratings grab, but Lee has since felt at home with the weekly TV revolving around him. Karrion Kross is not yet the performer he shows the promise of becoming, and he showed a lot of light with his offense here, but his act with Scarlett is captivating overall and unlike anything else on WWE TV right now. His facials when he’s dominating or simply posing remind me of Dominik Dijakovic emoting he’s in peril – they are far too cartoonish and detract considerably from his strengths. Facials, however, became the most intriguing aspect at play as Kross reacted to Lee as a prideful poacher might react to a magnificent lion they want to mount on their wall. He was both shocked by and enamored with Lee’s power in equal measure. The versatile Scarlett – or, as Triple H calls her, “the cutaway machine” – evocatively adds to any situation she’s put in, and that was no different here. Together Kross and Scarlett felt inevitable until they were pitted against a seemingly unstoppable Lee, yet even still they have triumphed. I will set aside the fact that Lee’s fireball-induced visual impairment – which Lee was even selling in the “Rocky III”-esque sparring video he did with Drew McIntyre – played no part in his performance. It was a bizarre go-home angle that echoed what Lee had already been through at TakeOver: In Your House, so I suppose for the sake of the end product I’m pleased we’re apparently to believe he made a full recovery in time. Now we turn our attention to the forthcoming MRI on Kross’ shoulder, which appeared to suffer separation upon the impact of a doomsday saito, and the implications that diagnosis may hold for this new title reign. For now, Kross can enjoy my adulation in the form of my judgment.

Verdict: HIT

Total: 4 Hits & 2 Misses for a rounded Hit percentage of 67%

2 Comments on NXT TAKEOVER XXX HITS & MISSES 8/22: Kross rises to the occasion, McAfee impresses, car crash ladder match, Balor booked backwards

  1. Dude for real! I was just remarking to someone how everyone else’s moonsaults tend to look “pretty”, but Io’s have this thud of impact that looks like it just kills the other girl

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